God’s Generosity Towards Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 31, 2022

Scriptures: Hosea 11:1-11; Ps 107:1-9. 43; Col 3:1-11; Lk 12:13-21

The missionary, Jim Elliott, killed (in 1957 at age of 28) while attempting to witness to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” What does this mean? Elliot lived this out, didn’t he? He gave up his life in service to God. We all know life is fragile. We act like we can control the number of our days, but the truth is that we could each—God forbid—be run over by a truck tomorrow. None of us knows for sure when we will die. So Jim Elliot gave up what he couldn’t keep (his life) to honor God and to gain–due to his heart-attitude—what he could not lose (his salvation/his position as an adopted son of God). This guy was sold out to God! Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). If we can believe what others tell us about Jim Elliott, he was willing to die to help spread the Gospel. By the way, his widow, Elizabeth Elliott, continued Jim’s work with the Auca’s and ended up converting his murderer (and others) to Christ. Jim Elliot lived a short life of incredible generosity toward God and others.

Let me share another illustration of generosity:

“Two young men [were] working their way through Stanford University [members of its 1st class in 1895]. Their funds got desperately low, and the idea came to one of them to engage Paderewski for a piano recital and devote the profits to their board and tuition [There was no “GoFundMe” at that time]. The great pianist’s manager asked for a guarantee of two thousand dollars. The students, undaunted, proceeded to stage the concert. They worked hard, only to find that the concert had raised only sixteen hundred dollars. After the concert, the students sought the great artist and told him of their efforts and results. They gave him the entire sixteen hundred dollars, and accompanied it with a promissory note for four hundred dollars, explaining that they would earn the amount at the earliest possible moment and send the money to him. “No,” replied Paderewski, “that won’t do.” Then tearing the note to shreds, he returned the money and said to them: “Now, take out of this sixteen hundred dollars all of your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work, and let me have the rest.” The years rolled by–years of fortune and destiny. Paderewski had become premier of Poland. The devastating war came [WWI], and Paderewski was striving with might and main to feed the starving thousands of his beloved Poland. There was only one man in the world who could help Paderewski and his people. {After appealing to this man], thousands of tons of food began to come into Poland for distribution by the Polish premier.

After the starving people were fed, Paderewski journeyed to Paris to thank Herbert Hoover for the relief sent him. “That’s all right, Mr. Paderewski,” was Mr. Hoover’s reply. “Besides, you don’t remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole.” (True story, prior to Hoover serving as our 31st president from 1929-1933, from the website www.sermonillustrations.com).

Later in his life, the former college student from Stanford was able to repay the Polish Premier for his earlier generosity.

Three of our lessons for today center on the heart—attitude of generosity.

A. In Hosea 11:1-11, the prophet not only speaks for God, but he also lives out a metaphor of God’s love for His people. In chapter 1, which we read last week, God tells Hosea to marry a whore, a woman who will be repeatedly unfaithful to him. What a dreadful assignment! God used Hosea’s tragic marital life to demonstrate to the Northern Kingdom how He felt about their idolatry—or what God considers “spiritual adultery.”

Hosea’s wife, Gomer, humiliated him time and again by running around with other men. By Jewish law, Hosea was justified in stoning her to death. But God told him to break the law God Himself had created in order to make his life an object lesson for the people. So, Hosea remained faithful, as does our God, to a spouse who was a serial or repeated adulterer.

Gomer bore him 3 children, but he could not be sure they were his. God had him name his 2 boys and 1 girl names that reflected the Lord’s increasing disappointment with and distress over Israel:

1.) A son, Jezreel, whose name meant God scatters;

2.) A daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, whose name meant not loved; and

3.) A second son, Lo-Ammi, whose name meant not My people. God was saying to the people of the Northern Kingdom, I have faithfully loved you, but you have been consistently and blatantly unfaithful to Me. I am withdrawing from you. I will scatter you.

Now, 10 chapters later, God changes the metaphor from a marital relationship to a parent-child relationship. He poignantly recalls (vv.3-4) It was I who taught Ephraim [Israel] to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He freed them, loved them, healed them, led them, and fed them. And how did they respond to His continuous, long-suffering, fatherly love for them? They left Him to take up with pagan gods.

So God names the nation He will use as His method of discipline: Defeat at the hands of the brutal Assyrians. This punishment, finally meted out in 722BC, was not simply meant as just retribution for their on-going betrayals. Rather, it was meant by God to be remedial. God used their defeat by the Assyrian army as a last resort to teach lessons they had rebelliously refused to learn. Our God means what He says. When I first taught high school (1970), my principal told me to always mean what I said to students and to say only what I meant. Otherwise, she said the students would not respect me or trust me. She was right. If I said a certain consequence would follow an act of disrespect or disruption, I had to enforce that consequence even if it meant punishing my favorite student. (Often I found the kids I liked the best were the first ones to try me.) Like a teacher who is firm and in control of her classroom, God loves us but will not tolerate our disobedience and disrespect forever. He is a God of love and mercy, but He will also act to bring about reformation of our character and our morals.

B. Psalm 107 celebrates the goodness of the Lord, in that He hears our prayers and saves us. The Psalm rejoices over God’s saving interventions on behalf of the Israelites in the past. Even though they were often disobedient, He provided for them, guided them, and protected them. He was justified in destroying them, but chose not to due to His love for them.

I believe this is a prophetic message for us today too. Due to His great love for us, our God continues to provide for and to protect us. He is extraordinarily patient with us. But as with the Israelites, there comes a time when He disciplines us to reform our characters.

This is why we pray for His continued mercy. This is why we weekly (and daily) pray for our nation to return to God.

C. In our Gospel passage, Luke 12:13-21, Jesus provides us with a lesson regarding those who are selfish and self-focused. We are meant by God to act generously toward God and others. Those who don’t, like the rich guy in the parable, will not be able to hold onto their wealth and possessions forever. He blithely assumed that he would continue to be blessed as he greedily horded all of his profits to himself. He probably never considered that it could all end for him at his sudden death. Jesus calls him a fool! Let’s think back to the Jim Elliott quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” We cannot trust we will keep our wealth. The stock market can crash; inflation cheapens what we have; expected inheritance checks fail to arrive (the deceased may have spent it all before dying; fire, rust, rot, floods, tornadoes, volcanos, and hurricanes can reduce what we own to nothing. While there are no u-hauls carrying our wealth with us in the afterlife, we can trust that God will reward us for being generous toward Him and others.

Our God is generous even as He disciplines us. He gave Israel—and He has given us—dozens and dozens of warnings of coming punishment. In the 350 years from 750-400BC, He sent 12 Minor Prophets and 4 Major ones to warn the people not to stray from Him. There was no social media then and no cable news networks, yet those folks cannot claim they were not warned. 16 prophets in 350 years amount to approximately one every 20 years. Most of them prophesied over a number of years, so their warnings overlapped. The people were not ignorant of God’s displeasure. They simply didn’t care. So He took them to the proverbial woodshed for a thorough thrashing.

And so that we know He means what He says—so that we discover that He is indeed trustworthy and true—He will eventually lower the boom on us as well. As much as we don’t want the discipline we have coming, He punishes us because He loves us: (Hebrews 12:5) My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son [or daughter].

We are wise to trust in His generosity towards us. We are also wise to fight against any tendencies we have toward greed and selfish self-interest. We can learn to be content with what we have.

We can commit to give to others in need out of our excess; i.e., rather than stock-pile it, we can give it away to others. And we can discipline ourselves to gift God with a tithe of all He has given us. Scripture says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). This means He owns all wealth. He gifts us with some of it. As a way to demonstrate our continued trust in His provision, and as a spiritual discipline, He wants us to give back to Him a portion…not because He needs it, but because we do.

Let’s pray:

Thank you, oh Lord, for Your incredible generosity towards us! We are exceedingly grateful. Help us to be generous toward You and toward others, we pray in the name of Jesus, our Messiah. Amen

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God Hates Pride (Proverbs 16:18)

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 3, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 5:1-19; Ps 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Lk 10:1-20

The following is a true story. I shared this with you some years back, but it’s a good one that I think is worth another hearing:

A Granny-lady from Florida approached her car and was shocked to see two men sitting in it. She pulled her pistol out of her pocket-book, pointed it at them, and said, “I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!” They immediately jumped out of the car and ran like mad! Relieved—and somewhat proud—she put her key in the ignition only to find it did not fit. Looking around in frustration, she then saw her own car several spaces away (You know how all silver or white SUV’s look the same!) Later, a booking Sargent at the local police station doubled over, laughing, as the 2 pale men reported a car-jacking by a “crazed, white-haired elderly woman, Caucasian, 5’ tall, wearing glasses, and carrying a large handgun. When questioned, the granny pleaded a “senior moment;” No charges were filed.

This is a funny story, isn’t it? It’s amusing precisely because it’s unexpected. The woman had to admit she was wrong—some find this very hard to do. The men were smart to remove themselves quickly. This is the kind of thing that their family and friends probably teased them about later. The lady was elderly. She was no doubt smaller and frailer than either one of them, but they wisely recognized her power differential. They were not too proud to run.

Our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today both demonstrate our Lord’s view of human pride. Let’s look at them together.

2 Kings 5:1-19 relates the story of Naaman, the Syrian general.

We begin in the year 852 BC. Israel and Syria (Aram) had been at war for most of that decade. At the time of this passage, they are enjoying an uneasy truce. Naaman was the very competent commander of the Syrian armies. He had the respect of his King, Ben Haddad II. He was viewed by those who knew him as an honorable man, an effective leader, and a valiant warrior. But he was also afflicted with leprosy. In Israel, he would have had to have quit the military to live in seclusion. Gentiles, however, did not tend to separate out those with skin diseases in those days. Did he actually have Hansen’s Disease, or what we today call “Leprosy?” Scholars are not sure. He may have had a chronic skin rash, like eczema or psoriasis, or even some sort of allergic reaction, like hives. Whatever the cause, he was dogged by this condition and apparently seemed eager to acquire a healing. He learns from his wife, who has a Hebrew slave girl, that there is a prophet in Israel, Elisha, to whom he could go to ask for his healing. So we have a proud, accomplished, but desperate man going along with the suggestion of a little slave girl.

His King gives him leave to go to Israel. He carries with him a letter saying words to the effect that, Here’s my general who comes in peace.…He also brings along a generous payment: 750# of silver; 150# of gold; and 10 sets of clothing. Relying on the usual diplomatic channels (go to the king 1st), he presents himself to the Joram, the King of Israel. Joram is Ahab’s and Jezebel’s son (he ruled 11 years, from 852-841BC. He was not as evil as his father and mother, but also not a true believer in God. King Joram freaks out when this very successful, powerful enemy warrior shows up! Joram, in his panic, forgets Elisha. He mistakenly believes Naaman expects him to heal him, saying Am I God? He is afraid his inability to effect a healing will become a reason to break off diplomatic relations and will precipitate a renewal of war. He tears his garments not in grief, but in frustration and despair. Elisha hears of the General’s visit (the Northern Kingdom was a small country).

Elisha chides the king (verse 8) Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know there is a prophet in Israel. Joram should have prayed, rather than freaking out! He should have called upon the prophet as God’s spokesperson.

In verse 9, Chariots blazing, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s like a rock star! He has the retinue, the diplomatic power, and the wealth of a famous person. He proudly expects to be treated quickly and effectively. But, God intends to heal him as well as to humble him: (1.) The prophet does not even come to greet him, or to offer the barest of hospitality—water, oil, a kiss of greeting; (2.) He instead sends him a message by a servant (v.10) Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed: The grand man feels disrespected! He was used to being accorded what we refer to today as “all due respect.” He was expecting some religious ceremony (verse 11) I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. And why should he wash in the piddley, muddy Jordan when there are cleaner, clearer, grander rivers in Damascus? He explodes into a fit of temper!

Notice that once again, a servant intervenes. Trusted underlings urge restraint and obedience: (verse 13) …if the prophet had said do some great thing, would you not have done it? So, in verse 14 he obediently and humbly washes 7 times in the Jordan and is cleansed/healed of his skin disease. Naaman then praises God (verse 15a) Now I know there is no God in all the world except in Israel. The great man has been humbled. He now has some new attitudes and has taken on some new behaviors.

His obedience, not the prophet’s ritual, had led to his healing. He was healed when he put aside his pride, his prejudice (against the Jordan), his preconceived notions (the prophet must perform some sort of ritual); and his pushback against simplicity. He was healed when he decided to trust in what his servants told him about the Hebrew God. He suddenly became so devoted to the God of the Hebrews that he carts back a wagon-load of Israelite soil to Syria. Many ancient peoples believed their gods were territorial, to be powerful only on their own soil. He does not yet know that the Hebrew God is God of all the earth, unlimited by country boundary-lines. And he promises that when he has to attend his king in Baal-worship, he will instead be praying in secret to the One True God. Naaman has been healed, humbled, and converted.

Our Gospel lesson today is from Luke 10:1-20 and it reveals a lesson similar to that of our passage from 2 Kings. 72 disciples are sent out in pairs to preach, teach, heal and deliver folks from demons. Jesus tells them to go where they are received (the way has been prepared); and to depend entirely on God for their provision. They come back rejoicing in their success, even over demons. There is a natural tendency to rejoice in our successes, isn’t there? But Jesus reminds them that they belong to God; that is, they are doing God’s work through the power of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want to get “the big head,” thinking our successes in ministry come from our own efforts.

Jesus then goes on to prophecy the future judgment of 3 Jewish communities: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Unlike Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, they have each had the opportunity to see Jesus and witness His teachings, healings, and miracles. Nevertheless, He knows they will have each rejected Him following His death on the Cross. As He says, rejecting Him is the same as rejecting God the Father. This is a case of hanging onto human pride (I know what is best for me.), leads to losing an opportunity for salvation.

Our God hates human pride: We are to put it to death. We are to stomp it out in ourselves. We are to smother or crush it. We are to be humble. Someone has once said, “Pride is the difference between what you are and what you think you are.”

It turns out that Samuel Morse was originally a painter of some renown. He was painting a portrait out of town when his wife became ill. Sadly she died before he’d even learned of her illness. Heartbroken, he set aside his painting and dedicated himself to developing a means of communicating, rapidly, over great distances. He eventually invented both the telegraph and the means to transmit messages on it, Morse Code. Even though he became very famous for these inventions, he remained humble, saying, “I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.” Morse had the right heart attitude.

Consider the following poem by A. Dudley Dennison, Jr.:

Sometime when you are feeling important,

Sometime when your ego’s way up;

Sometime when you take it for granted

That you are the prize-winning “pup”;

Sometime when you feel that your absence

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions,

And see how it humbles your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to your wrist.

Now pull it out fast and the hole that remains

Is the measure of how you’ll be missed.

You may splash all you please as you enter,

And stir up the water galore,

But STOP and you’ll find in a minute,

It’s back where it was before.

Borrowed from Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.467).

Let us Pray: Lord, we humbly ask You to help us to give God the glory for whatever we do of merit. We also ask, in Jesus’ name, that You would please save us all from the sin of pride! Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Packing Light, Packing Right

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 26, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 2:1-18; Ps 77:1-2, 11-20; Gal 5:1. 13-25; Lk 9:51-62

I would have liked to preach the passage about Elijah and Elisha, or the one from Galatians, but the Lord told me to preach the Gospel lesson today. I wrote my sermon, then looked back over my sermons for the past 6 years, and realized that I had preached this Gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) twice already, in 2016 and 2019. The Lord must believe we need to hear this lesson yet again.

The story is told of a dairy farmer who decided he needed a new pick-up truck: “He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. [My farmer son-in-law just replaced his pick-up truck; it had 470,000 miles on it!] He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the papers? The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.

A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H [or FFA] project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:

BASIC COW $500

Two-tone exterior $45, Extra stomach $75, Milk storage compartment $60, Straw recycle compartment $120, Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40, Leather upholstery $125, Dual horns $45, Automatic rear fly swatter $38, Natural fertilizer attachment $185.

GRAND TOTAL $1233.

Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. You don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship [and he should know as he died for his faith], “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.” (borrowed from a sermon by David Dykes, Don’t Waste Your Life, 8/31/2011.)

Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

Now consider, if you felt called to follow Jesus (and I hope each of you does), how would you pack? You might take a change or two of clothing; your Bible; your toothbrush, comb, and some toiletries; and your prescription meds and any supplements you use. But Jesus doesn’t concern Himself with any of these practical items. Instead He tells you to count the cost, to be sure you are prepared to do what it takes to be His follower. He is more concerned with your priorities than your creature comforts. He is most concerned with your heart-attitudes.

Essentially the message of our Gospel lesson today is to “Pack Light and Pack Right” (Luke 9:51-62). Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and to His crucifixion. He knows His time left to disciple/train His followers is brief. So He takes the shortcut, from His 3rd tour of Galilee in the North to Jerusalem in the South–which involves walking through Samaria. He has sent messengers ahead to a village to prepare for His arrival. He now travels with a retinue including the 12 disciples and a number of women who help pay their expenses from their own wealth. Unfortunately, the messengers discover the Samaritans there don’t want Him to sojourn in their village. YIKES! They reject Christ!

John and James are so outraged that they ask Him to call down the wrath of God on that community. They must have forgotten His admonition to them at the beginning of Chapter 9, when He had sent out the 12, two-by-two to practice on their own what He had taught and demonstrated for them: (1) They were to pack light, depending on God for their provision; (2) They were to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name; (3) And they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave behind any who rebuffed them. There was to be no punishing of those who rejected them or Jesus.

In a sense, rejecting Jesus embodies its own punishment: eternal damnation. Remember, the pig farmers from last week’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39), preferred saving their livelihoods to saving their souls. Jesus didn’t even rebuke them. He just got back in the boat and returned to Galilee. Jesus’ way is not to take revenge, not to try to ruin those who disagree with Him—so counter to our cancel culture of today. Instead, Jesus modeled for us to be patient, and to pray for and offer grace and forgiveness to those who reject Christ, or who mock or spurn us because we follow Him.

In His subsequent encounters with 3 would-be disciples, Jesus teaches that following Him takes commitment. The 1st man says confidently (v.57) that he will follow Jesus anywhere. Perhaps he has in mind the idea of following a traditional rabbi. Students walked beside or behind him and absorbed his teaching. Later they would convey it to others, saying: Rabbi Hillel said this…Rabbi Gamaliel said that. Have you ever noticed that Jesus never referenced another rabbi, saying instead, you have heard it said ________, but I say ________. There was no more important authority than Jesus, the Father or the Spirit.

But the apostles could have told the man that following Jesus was more like following a prophet. It included a kind of peripatetic “home-schooling.” They learned from Him while they walked with Him, listening to His wisdom and witnessing His miracles. Additionally, a prophet lived off of donations from those who responded to his ministry. So Jesus tells the guy, I’m homeless. Can you commit to being homeless too? I’m rejected. Can you live with being rejected too? Interestingly, Scripture doesn’t tell us the guy’s answer.

Jesus Himself recruited the 2nd fellow (v.59), and the man seemed to have a legitimate reason for hesitating—First let me go and bury my father. Jesus’ reply seems severe: Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Biblical scholars believe the guy’s father may have been alive still and thriving (Jesus would know that). He was asking to delay until a later time, like…wait until my kids finish high school; until my daughter gets married (and I have paid off the wedding); until my health improves; or until I win the lottery. Jesus was nearly out of time, so this excuse didn’t wash with Him. Nothing, not even family obligations, should come before what we owe God. Whenever there is a choice, God comes 1st.

The 3rd man volunteers to follow Jesus, but wants a brief delay to bid farewell to his family. Again Jesus offers him what seems to our ears a harsh admonition (v.62) No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (If someone pushing a hand-plow looks back, they are sure to plow a crooked row.). Jesus’ exacting sounding response means that the man cannot hang onto his old life and also adopt the new. Being Jesus’ disciple means not looking back but looking forward to what might be a rough road ahead.

Recently I read a true story about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside. The preacher said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher.” The preacher questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

Given what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, how many of you think our Lord would be pleased by what the guy in this story said? Jesus may have been amused, but I think He would then have taken the guy to task. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us (10:25)–>Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….We encourage each other when we worship together. We have also seen that there is power in corporate worship and power in corporate prayer. Furthermore, once you get into the habit of attending church, you feel like your whole day is amiss if you skip it. Times I have almost not come to church (before being ordained), I would discover something was preached or a Scripture was read that I was exactly meant to hear. If I had not attended that day, I would have missed out on something the Lord meant for me to learn!

When we follow Jesus, we sign on to more than the “basic model” of Christianity, which is…we love Him; we obey Him; and we love others. But we also pack Light—only the essentials—and we pack Right. We choose Jesus above all relationships and all things. He comes 1st. We follow Him, even if it means we suffer rejection and perhaps persecution (On Pentecost, 50 Nigerian Christians were killed while worshipping in their church—most likely by Nigerian Moslems. I know an Anglican Bishop there, Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. He has for years slept on a concrete floor instead of a comfortable bed, anticipating the day his Moslem neighbors arrest and imprison him. We don’t experience that kind of persecution—yet. But you may have noticed increasingly negative remarks about Christians in the media, and you may have experienced being mocked for your faith.

A number of you have heard me say that I had a vision of Jesus right before I was ordained. He wore the crown of thorns and a white robe, and smiled at me. I believed then and still do that His smile meant He approved of my entering the ministry. He didn’t say a word, but He reached behind Himself and pulled out a crown of thorns for me too. Later, I realized He was warning me that the cost of discipleship is high. I thought to myself at the time, At least it wasn’t a cross! But recently a pastor friend told me one of our seminary professors said in class, If you want to be ordained, you should ask yourself, “How do I look on wood?” Ordained or not, following Jesus is not a walk in the park. it is a death to self. However, embracing Jesus and dying to self is the only route to God’s heart.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Difficulty with Rejoicing

Pastor Sherry’s message for 5/15/2022

Scriptures: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 148; Rev. 21:1-8; Jn 13:31-35

In my Wednesday afternoon Bible Study this week, we focused on Jesus’ call to us to rejoice. In the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), the woman featured in the story is filled with joy when she locates her lost coin (1 in a set of 10). She is so excited when she finds it that she calls in her friends to celebrate the find with her. Jesus makes the point that heaven celebrates/rejoices just so when even one sinner repents.

From there, we discussed a difficulty with rejoicing with another, which is that we tend to be jealous of the cause of their joy. Isn’t it true that if friends are celebrating their 40th or 50th wedding anniversary, we are happy for them but also sad that we haven’t made it that far? Isn’t it also true that we rejoice for the woman who finds herself pregnant but are envious and grieved if we are experiencing infertility, or have had our last child–due to the financial burden–even though wishing for more? How about a lottery winner? Or someone who gets their dream job, or our dream job instead of us? Or a full ride scholarship to college? My great-niece just got such a scholarship even though her parents could well afford to pay her way. We might be happy for them at first, but often then move on to entertaining wishes that those good things happened to us instead of them. Unlike the lady in the parable, we may even hesitate to call in our friends to rejoice with us because we fear their jealousy. This may be human nature, but I believe Jesus calls us to put aside our envy—to overcome our natural tendencies–and truly celebrate with those who experience blessings.

Several of our readings today address this issue:

A. Our Acts 11:1-18 passage shows us what can happen when we don’t rejoice with the good fortune of others. Remember that we recently read how Peter baptized Cornelius and his household, all Gentiles? Prior to this, God had dramatically demonstrated to him—3 times—that nothing God creates, neither food, animals, nor non-Jews is unclean. He gets that God doesn’t play favorites, even though the Jews, as His Chosen People, believed otherwise. Peter is rightly convinced that God called him to baptize Gentiles into “the Way,” the enfant Christian Church. Now he is back in Jerusalem, however, and has to explain himself, and his actions, to the Jewish-Christian leaders back in the city. A group of new Christians, called the Judaizers, believed one must become a Jew before converting to Christianity. Remember, the movement was new. They were kind of making up the rules as time went on and occasions arose. This group wanted new believers to be circumcised, eat kosher, and go to Hebrew School prior to accepting Christ. Isn’t that just like human nature? You can almost hear people say, “Well, we had to do it that way. Why shouldn’t they?” Since we had to do that so should they. Rather than rejoice that God was calling more folks into the enfant church, they wanted to legislate a process. But God, the Holy Spirit, had a better idea.

Peter makes the very powerful and convincing point to them that the Holy Spirit (1) had told Cornelius where Peter was and to send for him; (2) then led Peter to Cornelius’ home; (3) and fell upon Cornelius and his friends, such that they were praying and speaking in tongues when Peter arrived. (4) So, since they were already baptized in the Holy Spirit, Peter did not believe he could deny them baptism with water.

Walter B. Knight, a Christian collector of illustrations for sermons and speeches, has written, Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts, announcing that the king is in residence today. (As submitted by Chuck Swindoll in his book, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322). The proper response to anyone coming to Christ is for us to rejoice for that person. The Church in Jerusalem should have been rejoicing over the sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, instead of questioning whether Gentiles should first be Jews. Our joy for others shows that we are attuned to God rather than to our fleshly, envious natures.

B. Revelation 21:1-8 describes what eternity will look like after Christ establishes His reign on earth. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. God and His Son, Jesus, will dwell in a new Jerusalem. Those who believed in Jesus will be there, but those who distained Christ—nonbelievers and notorious sinners—will not. Scholars believe this new and Godly environment will be characterized by no sin, temptation or further testing; no sun—just God and Jesus for sources of light; no oceans; no gravity; and we will remain in the presence of God and Jesus. This will be a “Brave New World,” but one in which we will rejoice to live!

C. Our Psalm (148) is ablaze with joy, praise to God, and rejoicing!

It fairly vibrates with joy and praises to God! It begins with a call to all created things to praise God. It ends with our motivation to joyGod’s having provided “a horn.” This term is an Old Testament euphemism for the Messiah, God’s anointed. Our motivation to rejoice in God should be our gratitude for His gift of Jesus. Do we really appreciate this great gift? Does thinking of Jesus and His loving sacrifice on the cross for our sakes fill us with gratitude and joy?

D. Finally, our Gospel (John 13:31-35) contains Jesus’ “new command” (v.34): Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. It’s actually an old command, dating back to the 3rd book of the Bible (and included in the Jewish Torah or Law), Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. The Father tacks on I am the Lord so we realize Moses wrote it down, but God originated and stated the command. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. His expectations of us are the same throughout Scripture: We’re to love Him and to love others. God is love and He expects us to Love. Notice Jesus is not calling us to serve in this verse. Neither is He calling us to witness—though both are commendable.

His highest priority is for us to demonstrate love.

Think for a moment about the connection between love and joy. When we learn we are loved, we experience great joy. I remember when I fell in love and learned he loved me in return, I wafted about in a natural high for days. Everything was beautiful and all people were wonderful. I really looked at life through rose-colored glasses. In a word, I was filled with joy! Similarly, Bruce Larson (a prolific Christian author) has said, Grimness is not a Christian virtue. There are no sad saints. If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News and our bodies as much as our souls will suffer the consequences. (From his book, There’s a Lot More to Health Than Not Being Sick, and submitted by Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322).

This week, let’s celebrate God’s blessings in our lives, daily. Make it a habit to think of 3 good things that have happened to you in a given day. We may have to initially ask God to give us eyes to see. Our brains are naturally wired to help us see danger and what is wrong in a situation. We therefore have to retrain our brains to intentionally look for things for which to be thankful. Experience teaches that we can find them if we look carefully.

Then let’s rejoice! Let’s celebrate the goodness of our God.

Finally, let’s discipline ourselves to rein in our envy and jealousy. We need to recognize it for what it is. Next we need to renounce it. The behavior is human but not godly. Then, knowing that God loves you and desires to bless you too, choose to replace envy with rejoicing. Consider Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Celebration and Sadness

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 3, 2022,

Scriptures: Isa 43:16-21; Ps 126; Phil 3:4b-14; Jn 12:1-11

This week, I attended two clergy meetings. The first took place Tuesday evening. George and I were present at Good Samaritan Church, Tallahassee, to learn the Conference’s response to the potential split over the issue of marrying and ordaining LGBTQ persons. George will tell you more about it in days to come; but, because of the latest variation of Covid, and the problems Methodists worldwide were having getting Visas into the US, it was decided to move the General Assembly meeting to vote on this issue to 2024. The second meeting was an Anglican one held at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Tallahassee, Thursday and Friday (As you know, I was ordained an Anglican but—with the consent of both bishops–I serve y’all here at Wellborn United Methodist Church). At the second meeting, we clergy renewed our ordination vows. Then we sat through a 2 day teaching on how to recognize signs one is headed toward clergy burn-out; and what to do to prevent what they are now calling “moral failure”—when a clergy person “crashes and burns” or falls apart in their ministry.

In his sermon during a worship service, my Anglican Bishop, Neil Lebhar, told of his recent encounter with a Ukrainian woman named Nina. He had been asked to stop in Poland, as he returned home from a trip to Jerusalem, to ordain Nina to the deaconate. As most of you know, to be ordained in both the Methodist and the Anglican denominations, it is necessary that a Bishop lays hands on you (usually your head) and imparts the Holy Spirit to you for empowerment for ministry. Nina is attached to Christ Church, an Anglican church in the Old City of Jerusalem. However, she had been home to teach in a Bible College in Kyiv, and got trapped by the war. By the grace of God, and a few miracles, she was able to leave Ukraine on the 5th day of the war. She had waited with hundreds in the cold for a train. The first one filled up before she could get on, so she waited in the cold another 3 hours for a 2nd one. Meanwhile all those waiting were told not to eat or drink anything because the train would lack sanitary facilities. Finally, she boarded the 2nd train for Poland. The usual 3 hour trip took 12, again with no food or water.

Nevertheless, Nina made it to Poland and Bp. Neil was able to ordain her. He said he was struck during the service by the contrasts presented between celebration and sadness. Nina, and her few witnesses, were filled with joy over her ordination. She had safely made it out of a war zone. She connected with Bp. Neil in Poland for the ceremony. A Polish Baptist pastor, Kristoff, offered to host the service at his church. And her boss and another female deacon from Jerusalem were also able to witness the event. But she was also grieved that none of her family could attend; none of her home church family from Ukraine could be there either. Like so many refugees from the war, she had left her country with just what she could carry in one suitcase. The few people at the service were delighted for Nina, but most were also very aware the odd juxtaposition of joy in the midst of devastation.

As God would have it, our Scriptures today also reflect this contrast between celebration and sadness:

Our Isaiah 43:16-21 passage briefly recounts the Red Sea crossing of the children of Israel. With the ocean before them and the Egyptian army at their backs, the former slaves appeared to be trapped! Even though Pharaoh had agreed to let them go, he later changed his mind when he considered he was losing a free labor force of 2 million persons. However, God miraculously saved them, while the Egyptian chariots and army met their watery grave (celebration and sadness).

Later, in the wilderness, God miraculously provided them with water (vv.21-22) The wild animals honor Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, my chosen, the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise. The wilderness is a bleak place; living things can and do die there (often one can find skeleton bones of those who didn’t make it). But God was doing a new thing (v.19) He provided enough water for 2 million people to slake their thirst. And He intended to send Jesus into the world at a much later date to redeem us from sin. Imagine their relief at escaping the Egyptian army and their delight over God’s provision of water—fear and sadness, then celebration.

Psalm 126 celebrates the end of the Babylonian captivity. The folks from Judah, the Southern Kingdom, had been carried off to Babylon due to their idolatry. Despite numerous warnings from God through the prophets, they had been spiritually unfaithful to Him. So he allowed the Babylonian King Nebuchanezzar to carry them off to Babylon in 578BC. But this psalm celebrates their freedom. After 70 years as prisoners in that country, they are set free to return to the Promised Land. In verse 3, the people rejoice The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. The background, however, is one of sadness: of the thousands of Israelites deported, only 4,000 decided to return home. We can only assume the others had settled into life in Babylon—by then a part of the Persian Empire—and decided not to return to their homeland. The returnees celebrate their release, but they also experience sadness at leaving some friends behind, as well as revisiting their devastating ordeal when they arrive to find Jerusalem and the Temple in ruins.

This theme of celebration and sadness is even present in chapter 3:4b-14 of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul first lists all the ways he was both qualified and competent to be a high-place-enemy of Christianity. He had a near perfect Jewish pedigree. He had become a respected and influential Pharisee. And, he was trusted by the Sanhedrin to pursue and arrest new Christians, followers of what they first called “the Way.”

But after his dramatic encounter with Christ, he realized all those things that he had previously viewed as important—when compared to following Jesus—were of no worth at all. When Paul came to Christ, those credentials and credits were lost to him. We could say he was somewhat like Nina, who had to leave everything behind to dedicate her life to knowing Jesus (vv.7-8) But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

The Bishop knew this is what Nina felt. Despite any sadness related to the loss of her family or her country, she rejoiced in being anointed into God’s service. The same is true for you and for me, isn’t it? Maybe we gave up carousing and cussing, doing whatever we wanted, living out our dream for our lives until we realized that that did not work well for us. Living a Godless life, or a life in rebellion against God, was really a life of grief and sadness. True peace and joy come from loving God and trusting that He loves and forgives us. True peace and joy come from turning our lives over to Jesus Christ. For many of us, our conversion experience constituted a voyage from sadness to celebration.

The Gospel lesson, John 12:1-11 paints this contrast most vividly. Shortly after resurrecting Lazarus, Jesus circles back around to visit at his home. Lazarus calls for a celebratory meal in Jesus’ honor. Martha offers her gift of hospitality as she cooks and serves a meal. Mary worships Jesus by anointing His feet with costly perfumed oil. Some scholars believe she may have purchased it earlier for her own burial; but six days before the Cross, the Holy Spirit moved her to anoint Jesus with it instead. It was probably worth approximately $30,000-$40,000 in today’s economy. It was certainly an indication of her respect and love for Jesus that she would lavish Him with such an extravagant gift.

When Judas criticizes her gesture as a waste of money, Jesus chastises him. Mary may not have known that Jesus was walking toward His death only days later, but Jesus knew she was anointing Him for the grave.

Then, a great crowd shows up—most like out of curiosity—but perhaps also to celebrate both Lazarus and Jesus. However the religious leaders of the day planned to kill them both. Celebration and sadness:

1.) Jesus opened His public ministry with a wedding (joy), and closed it (sadness) with a family dinner.

2.) We see in this intimate portrait a picture of the soon-to-be-Church:

Lazarus has new life in Christ; Mary worships and adores Him; while Martha serves Him.

3.) But we also see a symbol of His coming passion and death. Jesus’ return to the vicinity of Jerusalem has, in a sense, signed His execution order, and Mary has unwittingly anointed Him for burial.

4.) Nevertheless, we have joy in knowing Jesus’ coming death provided a “sacred exchange” for us: Our sins for His holiness; Our death for His eternal life; and Our fate exchanged for His spiritual fortune.

We certainly resonate with Nina’s celebration and her sadness, don’t we? But we also realize the Christian walk is a mix of both. Jesus never promised us a rose garden, but instead said, (Mark 8:34) Pick up your cross and follow Me. When we turn our lives over to Jesus, the evil one comes after us—as though we now have a giant bulls-eye painted on our chest. There can come to us numerous times of trial, testing, pain, and sadness. He doesn’t prevent these dark times in our lives, but He does both use them to mold and shape our characters, and He remains present to us as we journey through them. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God is Good!

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 16, 2022

Scriptures—Isa 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; 1 Cor 12:1-11; Jn 2:1-11

Etymologists who study the evolution of language tell us that Old English developed from Germanic tribes (the Angles and Saxons) invading parts of England/Scotland and blending their Germanic tongues with the Celtic and Latin spoken there, around 300AD. (I know that languages evolve because my grandkids, 7th and 9th graders, speak words that I have never heard before or use words I know but which have a different meaning from what I learned.) Have you ever noticed that the words God and good are only separated by one letter, an extra “o”? This is significant because when these Germanic folk began to worship the God of the Old and New Testaments, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, they searched for a word to describe Him. Originally, they worshipped a pantheon of pagan gods with names like Odin, Thor, and Freya. They wanted a name that differentiated the Christian God from these. I don’t know why they didn’t use Yahweh, God’s name in the Old Testament. That would have gotten my vote, but, as they began to learn more about God’s nature, they were amazed by God’s goodness. So, they decided to use a form of their word good and adapt it to mean the Christian God.

In other words, the word that made the most sense to them to use to name our God was their word, good. This was true in Old English, but also in modern German and Dutch. We know from Scripture that God is good. Isn’t it interesting that when a group of ancient, northern European people came to accept our God as their Lord and Savior, they chose to call Him by their word for good?

I wrote this sermon on Thursday and Friday, then was out of town all day Saturday. When I arrived back home after 7:00pm Saturday, I found a card from an old friend in my mailbox. The card read, “God is good, all the time.” Inside, the printed card continued, “All the time, God is good.” My friend had selected the card some days ago and sent it to me from another city, not knowing what passages I would be preaching. I was delighted that God seemed to indicate that my sermon was pleasing to Him!

Our Scripture lessons today all emphasize the goodness of our God.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Isaiah 62:1-5. In it, God uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for His bride to describe His love for Jerusalem—and, by extension—for us, because, thanks to Jesus, we have been grafted into His Chosen People. Despite their repeated (and current) rejection of Him, God promises the Jews that at Jesus’ 2nd Coming, He will delight in Jerusalem (He and Jesus will take up residence there); He will give her a new name—indicating a new character pleasing to God; He will marry Himself to her (not in a sexual way but indicating an intimate knowledge of her for Him and Him for her); and He will be present to her, protect her, and delight in her.

Doesn’t this just beautifully and convincingly demonstrate the loving kindness, the goodness of our God? He never gives up on us. As the prophet Jeremiah affirms in 29:11–For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

B. Similarly, Psalm 36:5-10, written by King David, extolls the goodness of the Lord toward all His creatures, human and otherwise:

Verse 5 praises God’s love and faithfulness towards us. Verse 6 applauds His righteousness and justice toward us. Verse 7 acclaims Him as our refuge when we need one—…both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. This image of wings echoes Exodus 19:4 where God tells Moses to remind the Israelites🡪You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. It’s also present in Matthew 23:37 where Jesus mourns His rejection by His people O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing. “Under her wings” is the place of protection and security; and “under [His] wings” is the place of warmth and rest.

Verses 8-10 celebrate His abundant provision for us, in images of profuse feasting and drinking. Again, the Scriptures proclaim the goodness of God.

C. Our Gospel reading, John 2:1-11, describes Jesus’ and His mother’s response to a lack at a country wedding. Jesus may have attended many weddings over the course of His earthly life, but this one took place at Cana, a village just over the hill from Nazareth. Weddings, then like now, were joyous occasions. In small villages, everyone was invited. There was feasting and dancing. Sometimes the celebration lasted several days. If a couple were poor, there was a real danger of running out of food and wine. Wine to them was a staple with meals. Perhaps the alcohol content helped kill bacteria in their unfiltered water. But drunkenness was universally condemned.

The couple does run out of wine, and they are about to be publically embarrassed. Mary, Jesus’ mother, brings their dilemma to His attention. She says (v.3), They have no more wine. Jesus responds (v.4), Dear woman, why do you involve Me? Scholars are undecided about why she would ask Him to do something for them in this setting. Some believe she was asking Jesus and His 12 to leave, thus lessening the demand. Others speculate she was asking Him to preach in order to distract the guests—but even if He did so, the folks attending would still require food and drink. Still others suggest she wanted Him to vindicate her publically, thinking if He performed a miracle for them, He would prove He was God as she had maintained all of her life. But I think she, as His mother, knew His capabilities. I know my engineer son. He can teach me about computers, but he cannot fix my clogged drains. We mothers often know very well what our kids can and cannot do. Mary clearly had empathy for the couple, and she knew her son and trusted that He could rectify the situation. Jesus, on the other hand, knew this would “out Him,” so He was reluctant to perform a miracle—He says, My time has not yet come. Later in John’s Gospel He will say He only does what He sees His Father doing. But in this case, I think He honored His mother by taking care of things:

First, He has them gather 6 large water jars. Each, set aside for ritual purification, held 20-30 gallons. Then He quietly transforms the water into the best wine ever! 6X20=120 gallons; 6X30=180 gallons. What an exceptionally generous amount of especially delicious wine! The wedding planner is stunned! In this transformation, Jesus has just offered what John calls “a sign” of His divinity—by His will alone, He can convert one form of matter into another.

D. We know from this side of the Cross that Jesus only did what His heavenly Father told Him to do. So, why unveil His divinity at a wedding? Remember, our Isaiah lesson (62:1-5) uses the metaphor of a bridegroom’s love for his bride to describe God’s love for us. A portion of our Psalm 36:5-10 celebrates God’s love for us in images of feasting and drinking—like at a wedding reception. The 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 passage lists 9 spiritual gifts potentially given to those of us who love Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now Paul provides 3 lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians and in Romans. There are some differences among these lists. But this one cites miraculous powers. Jesus demonstrated miraculous powers at the Cana wedding. Some believe this signaled His endorsement of the marital union. Other Biblical experts assert that Jesus took something old and battered (the jugs/water pots) and filled them with something new designed to meet their needs: He took a good thing from the past—water—and turned it into a good thing for the future–really excellent wine. This way, we can begin to see the wine as a metaphor for the generous blessings of God. Whatever the truth of the matter, in solving the problem of the wine deficit, Jesus demonstrated God’s love, compassion, generosity, and His goodness.

By the way, did you know that Welch’s Grape Juice was originally created as a non-alcoholic, alternative communion wine? Prior to branching out into jams and jellies, Mr. Welch, a Methodist dentist from the 1800’s, wanted something that looked like wine but lacked its alcohol content to serve at his church communion. Some denominations use real wine; others, like us, use grape juice. I have attended a Lutheran Church which served both, the grape juice as an alternative for kids and for recovering alcoholics.

If you have trouble getting your mind around the concept that God is good—especially when you wonder about the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities you may have experienced in this life– consider this true story recounted by Richella J. Parham in her 2019 book titled, Mythical Me (pp. 58-59, IVPress):

As I was talking with my friend Robin one day, she told me of a good deed she had done, then she stopped and said, “Of course, I know I’m just a sinner.” I then asked Robin, who has a young-adult daughter, to describe her daughter to me in twenty-five words or less. I watched as my friend’s eyes lit up and her lips tilted into a smile. “She’s beautiful. She’s fierce and wise. She’s a lover of Jesus, a friend to all, and a defender of the poor. She is my inspiration.” (Robin is very good with words.)

“Why didn’t you describe your daughter as a black-hearted buzzard?” I asked. “Isn’t she?”

“Why not?’ I queried.

“Because I love her,” came the reply.

“And why do you love her?” I pressed.

“Because she’s my daughter,” came the quick answer from my friend, now wearing a puzzled look.

“If this is how you feel about your daughter, how do you suppose your Father in heaven feels about you?” I asked, knowing the answer.

As Ms. Parham writes, compared to God, we are all black-hearted buzzards to some degree. But praise God, He sees the good in us besides, and loves us because He is good. Remember, He doesn’t send the bumps, dings, assaults, and calamities upon us–Satan does! The Lord, however, promises to be present with us in our struggles. God is good, all the time; All the time, God is good. To God be the glory!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Be grateful for Jesus, our Shepherd King

Pastor Sherry’s message from November 22, 2020

Scriptures: Eze 34:11-16, 20-24; Ps 100; Eph 1:15-23; Matt 25:31-46

I love funny signs, don’t you?  I found some this week that made me laugh out loud:

Signs on property fence lines:

​​​1. No hunting; No fishing; No nothing!  Go home!

2. No trespassing! Violator will be shot; survivors will be shot again!

​​​3. No trespassing!  We’re tired of hiding the bodies. 

Signs of warning:

1. High voltage. Do not touch. Not only will this kill you, It will hurt the whole time you are dying.

2. Warning. If the help desk thinks your question is stupid, we will set you on fire!

3. Unattended children will be given an energy drink and a free puppy.

​​​4. No dumping cats!  $750 fine and/or 90 days in jail.

5. My personal favorite: Warning! If you think you can run across this pasture in 10 seconds, Don’t! The bull can do it in 9.

As we approach Thanksgiving this week, I think one thing we can all be thankful for is humor. We began our service today with an opportunity for each of us to express our gratitude to God. As you may have noticed as they were read, today’s Scripture passages all focus on reasons we can and should be grateful to God.

Additionally, our Bible passages today all relate to the Kingship of Jesus Christ.

In the Ezekiel passage (34:11-16, 20-24), God is essentially firing the religious leaders of Israel. He is fed up with their ineptitude, their failures to protect His sheep, and their outright abuse of them. Instead, He shares His resolve to send a new, improved, better shepherd to watch over, teach, and guide His people: Jesus.

So, among the many things we have to be grateful for, we can thank God for sending Jesus to be our perfect Shepherd.  He has redeemed us from our bondage to sin and death; and He saved us from the penalty for our sins.  We can also thank God that Jesus, as Christ the King, is coming again.  When He does return, He will dispense true justice.  He will also establish lasting peace on the earth.  And He will gather to Himself those who love Him.

Psalm 100 is a song of praise to Christ as King. During my time at seminary, I worked my way through by directing a college counseling center. The college was “Reformed Presbyterian,” which meant, among other things, that they did not use musical instruments in church or chapel. Instead, they sang the psalms only, with no accompaniment, but in 4-5 part harmony. This psalm they called “Ole 100.” Hearing it sung in 5 parts, acapella, was both spectacular and very moving.

Verse 3 tells us that the LORD is God. He is our Creator, our Redeemer; and He is the Shepherd of Israel and of the Church. V.4 reveals what J. Vernon McGee3 calls “the password to worship: Thanksgiving! [We] Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. This is how we worship God in spirit and in truth. We express our thanks to Him. We praise Him for His goodness, grace, and loving-kindness towards us. After you have memorized Psalm 23 as well as Psalm 51, you may want to put Ole 100 to memory too, as it’s a beaut!

In our Ephesians passage (1:15-23), Paul expresses thanks to God for the faith and love he sees demonstrated by this church.

When I was ordained, my Bishop gave me a devotional that takes a person through the Bible in two years. It’s meant for a pastor’s quiet time daily with the LORD. The Bishop signed it for me, inscribing it with these verses. It was as though he was saying, “I will be praying for you just as Paul was praying for those Corinthians.” Paul was delighted that they loved Jesus, loved Paul, their pastor, and loved God’s Word. He tells them they are on his prayer list. He doesn’t pray for material blessings for them, but rather for spiritual blessings:

1. He wants them to have wisdom and discernment, especially as they meditate on Scripture. He wants the Holy Spirit to continue to lead and guide them. In 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, he wrote, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him; but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

2. He wants them to be people of hope.

3. He wants them to be aware of the endless energy and the boundless strength of Christ that can and will be used for their good. Jesus runs the universe; He also rules the Church. He is no pasty-faced, skinny, 98 pound weakling, but He is both robust and powerful enough to resurrect and to ascend to Heaven. When Scripture asks if anything is impossible for the LORD, the answer is no because He holds the power to do and to act.

In our Gospel (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus reminds us that, at His 2nd Coming, He will separate out sheep from goats.  The sheep– true believers–will be set on His right side.  These are those of us with faith in Jesus.  Our faith will be evident in the way we lived our lives.  Our charitable works on the behalf on others don’t earn us salvation; only our faith in Christ does.  But because we love Jesus, we try to love others by serving them in loving ways.  Our charitable works come from a generous heart, a trusting spirit.  And we try to be humble…Lord, when did we….Our reward will be to hear Jesus say to us, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you….

The goats—unbelievers—will be sent to His left. These are the ones who have discounted Christ, blown Him off, refused to believe in Him during their life time. They will be condemned. They will hear Jesus tell them, Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. The goats will be shocked and horrified. They will react with self-righteousness…When did we not….

What’s so alarming about this teaching is its permanence. Jesus is warning us—like some of those goofy signs I shared earlier—(v.46) [the wicked] will go away to eternal punishment, but be grateful for Jesus, our Shepherd King the righteous to eternal life. He is serious. The results of our choice—with or without Christ—is forever, changeless and without end. What’s so wonderful, however, is that we are free to make the choice. I don’t know about you, but I am so grateful that loving Jesus sets me up to be awarded an eternal place among only righteous persons. I’m so grateful that by loving Jesus, I avoid being consigned to that place where only evil-doers will dwell. I have often thought it would be horrible to be in prison, not just due to your lack of freedom. But consider who your neighbors are there. You would be confined to the company of murderers, thugs, rapists, and robbers. How would one be able to sleep at night? Hell will be so much worse!

So let’s think—as we approach Thanksgiving day—of what all of us has to be thankful or grateful for:

1. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, came to save us.

2. Jesus, our Great Shepherd King, will come again to establish justice and bring us to Himself.

3. That gratitude/thanksgiving is our password into God’s gates; the threshold into true worship.

4. Paul and other intercessors pray for us by name.

5. That Jesus calls us to give ourselves away—using our gifts and talents—in love and service to others.

6. And aren’t we just so grateful, too, for a little humor while we await our heavenly reward?

C 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Surrender … but hold on!

Pastor Sherry’s Message for August 2, 2020

Scriptures: Genesis 32:22-31; Ps 17:1-7

Can you remember how you felt when you knew you had to face some pretty unpleasant event?  I can think of two such events when I was a kid and even one as an adult.  When I was going into the 7th grade, my dad was transferred to Hawaii.  This was in the late 50’s when the islands were still a territory, not yet a state.  So we had to endure a series of painful immunizations.  I dreaded the days we had to present ourselves for those shots.  The anticipation was far worse than the actual event.  In another example, my brother and I had misbehaved badly for our mother.  When our abusive stepdad went out to sea, we both felt like the clamps had come off and I am sure we manipulated our mother something fierce.  One particular time, she threatened, “Just you want ‘til you dad comes home!”  She marked the days on the calendar.  We got more and more distressed as the weeks sped away and the date of his return loomed before us.  I am sure my brother and I were the only ones on the dock, as the ship came in, who were not celebrating its return.  He did beat us, rather severely.  I was only about 9-10, but I remember recognizing that my mother was a weak disciplinarian who never should have left the job to another.  Interestingly, she never seemed to be able to figure out why we didn’t love him better or have happier memories of our childhood.

As an adult, I had stood up as the lone dissenter in a vote for a new pastor.  The rest of the committee got very angry with me as we decided everything by unanimous vote; they perceived that I was holding up the process.  We eventually decided the matter by drawing lots—an old Biblical tradition—and the guy I felt so strongly about won the job unanimously!  Later the new pastor (who thought I was the lone holdout against him) told me I had to be reconciled with each of the other 11.  I did so, and believe me, I approached each individual appointment with anxiety.  The whole experience was an exercise in humility.

This is essentially the situation the patriarch Jacob faces in today’s OT Lesson, Genesis 32:22-31. He is returning to the Promised Land after 20 years of exile.

Recall that he was named “Jacob” (which meant heel grabber, deceiver) as the younger of a set of twins.  He later manipulated his slower, less cerebral brother, Esau, out of his birthright:  The lion’s share of their father’s property & livestock; but also the Covenantal relationship with God.  This is bad enough, but—with his mother’s complicity—he tricks/deceives his blind father into giving him his blessing!  His mother, Rebekah, should have known better.  God had told her that the older twin would serve the younger.  She should have remembered and waited on God to see how He meant to work this out.  Instead, the wily Jacob and his mother demonstrate no respect for Isaac, no love for Esau, and no faith in God.  Jacob gets the blessing, fraudulently, but he earns the murderous rage and hatred of his only sibling.  This forces him to flee the country—never to see his mother again.

As our passage from last week indicated, Jacob is taken to the Spiritual Woodshed by his mother’s brother, Uncle Laban (Let us all hope we never encounter an Uncle Laban in our lifetime):  Jacob agrees to work 7 years for the lovely Rachel, only to be given the less attractive, older sister, Leah, on his wedding night.  The deceiver is deceived!  Uncle Laban justifies his trickery with the custom that older daughters must marry before younger ones.  Once Jacob recovers from his shock and anger, he agrees to work another 7 years for his true love.  The two “sister wives”compete over who can give Jacob the most sons.  The ladies add two more “sister wives” to fuel the race.  Leah, the less valued wife, ends up with 6 sons and a daughter of her own, and two sons by a surrogate.  The favorite wife, Rachel, struggles with infertility, but has two surrogate sons and, finally, two sons of her own (dying as she gives birth to #2 after Jacob has settled in back home).

Once Jacob’s term of 14 years is up, he is forced to indenture himself to Laban for another 6 years, so as to amass sufficient resources to support 4 wives & 12 children.  Meanwhile, the jealousies, resentments, envy and animosity of the “sister wives” and their children continue to fester.  Laban keeps changing the terms of his contract with Jacob (10 times!), trying to cheat him.  We are talking a highly dysfunctional family here.  By the time of today’s lesson, Jacob has been out of the “Promised land” for 20 years.  Jacob, the “Trickster,” has been repeatedly tricked by an even cannier trickster.  I picture him as exhausted, harried, and burnt-out.

Now Jacob knows God has called him to return home, but what about the vengeful Esau?  When Jacob had last encountered his brother, Esau had been intent on killing him.  So Jacob has finally escaped one enemy—Uncle Laban—only to face another, Esau.  Just prior to today’s passage (Gen 32:9-12), Jacob prays a powerful prayer to God:  (1) He acknowledges how God has blessed him; (2) He reminds God that it is He who has called him home; and (3)He asks God to save him from his brother’s wrath.  He then sends his wives & family across the Jabbok (Wadi Zarqa, 20 mi. west of the Jordan).  Alone, he is suddenly grabbed by God!  He struggled all his life to prevail, no doubt thinking, “I can determine my destiny.”  1st, he had contended with Esau; 2nd, with Uncle Laban.  Now, he wrestles all night with the pre-incarnate Christ–Hosea 12:4-5 reports, He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought His favor.  He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with him—the LORD the God of hosts, the LORD is His name.

Now, finally Jacob realizes, God holds my destiny.  Actually, God is wrestling with one hand tied behind His back.  But Jacob won’t quit.  Jesus wants to go so He won’t be recognized.  Jacob has surrendered his will to God but he won’t let go of Him.  Jacob has become a perseverer.  Graciously, Jesus will not overrule Jacob’s will, so instead He puts his hip out of joint.  Jacob wisely asks for a blessing from the Divine Logos.  Jesus, who knows everything, asks him a rhetorical question, What is your name?  The Lord then changes his name from Jacob (Deceiver) to Israel (He who contends with God and men and overcomes).

By changing his name, Jesus is indicating that Jacob’s character has been purified. Jesus is also letting Jacob know that his future successes will result (Zechariah 4:6), ”Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty.

Israel wants Jesus’ name but the LORD will not reveal it to him.  We cannot overcome or control God; instead, we yield and hold on!  This is both a spiritual victory for Israel and a demonstration of human frailty in the face of God.  God will superintend the reconciliation with his brother.  As my prayer partner likes to say, God rules and overrules the hearts of men and women.  The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, …He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  God had begun a good work in Jacob.

The spiritual woodshed was intended to transform him, mold and shape the deceptiveness out of him through adversity.  In wrestling with him, Jesus was saying—without words—your brother, Esau, will not overcome or kill you.  You do not need to fear him, because I and the angel armies are with you.

Among the many lessons of Jacob/Israel wrestling with God are these:

  • God accepts us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us that way. He doesn’t overrule our will, but He will discipline us.  Until we are transformed by this discipline, often the things we most want are what elude us.
  • Nevertheless, He will persist with us, giving us enough lessons to bring us

around.

  • When we finally do surrender to Him, He then blesses us.  Jacob/Israel re-entered the Land with 11 sons and 1 daughter, lots of servants, huge numbers of sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and camels—enough excess to offer reparations to Esau—or at least “to sweeten” their first meeting.
  • I tell the clients I work with at Honey Lake Clinic, “If you want God to heal you, you have to set aside your ideas of how you will be healed and let God be God.” That is true for all of us. Not my will but yours be done, Oh Lord!  When we are dealing with God, our proper attitude needs to be one of surrender; surrender, but hold on!

 

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

 

 

 

For the Love of God!

Pastor Sherry’s Message for June 14, 2020

Scriptures Gen 18:1-15; Ps 116:1-2, 12-19; Ro 5:1-8; Matt 9:35-10:8

How many of you remember the TV sitcom, “Friends”?  I was not really a fan of the program, but I do recall that it had a memorable theme songTruthfully, though, who knew the words?  According to YouTube, the lyrics went something like this:

 So no one told you life was gonna be this way…

Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A.

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear…

When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your

year.

You’re still in bed at 10 and work began at 8…

You’ve burned your breakfast…

So far, things are going great.

Your mother warned you there’d be days like these…

But she didn’t tell you when the world has brought you down to your

Knees…

You know, some of us can truly relate to those 1st two verses….We all have bad days, sometimes bad weeks, months or even years.  We can catch ourselves talking like Eeyore (of Winnie the Pooh), saying things like, “whatever can go wrong will go wrong.”  We can become downcast or pessimistic, and may feel depressed and discouraged.  We stress over the Chinese Corona Virus, being quarantined (sheltered in place); being out of work, or not having a job to return to; watching riots and looting—anarchy—play out on the news; witnessing a new and reprehensible hatred for the police; observing no politicians stepping up to make the streets safe again; and hearing of dentists and other professionals being so discouraged and hopeless that they choose suicide over waiting to see how this crisis will work out.

In this environment, the chorus of the Friends theme song is important to remember:

I’ll be there for you

                    When the rain starts to pour.

                    I’ll be there for you

                    Like I’ve been there before.

 

You see, the song celebrates the value of true, blue friends; but it could just as well celebrate the love of God for us.

 

               Our Scriptures today all celebrate the love of God for us.

Let’s consider them together:

Our psalm, Psalm 116, is a thanksgiving or Hillel psalm.  Scholars believe Jesus sang it on his way to the Garden of Gethsemane (Hebrews 12:2–Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God).  Imagine knowing what was going to happen to Him, and nevertheless singing God’s praises as He went to His death!  How brave of Jesus!

The psalmist acclaims his love for and trust in God because he knows that God hears him, and pays attention to his cry for mercy.  Isn’t that true for us too?  We can take all of our stressors, disappointments, frustrations, health concerns, and fears, to the Cross and leave them with Jesus to redeem and transform.  V.12 asks, How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?  Then David answers his own question:  We repay the Lord by lift [ing] up the cup of Salvation; And by fulfil [ing] my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people.

Now what does this mean to us?  The cup of salvation refers to one of the cups of wine consumed at the Passover meal.  It represented the peoples’ thanksgiving to God for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt; it symbolized offering thanks to God for redeeming them.  Like them, we celebrate Jesus’ redemptive act in communion, when we call the cup the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.   Our vows to the Lord is a Biblical expression of our decision to praise God.  We praise God, out loud, each Sunday when we spell out the ways He has blessed us this past week (our joys). Dr. J. Vernon McGee says, “Prayer springs from need; but praise follows deliverance.”  Praise, love, and obedience are the only things we can offer to God—He doesn’t need or require anything else from us.  Our psalm also calls this (v.17) a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  We take time away from our own concerns to think of the things for which we are grateful to God.  Then we take time away from our own concerns to direct our thanks to Him.

What are some things for which we can and should express our  thanks to God?  Again, our scripture lessons offer some examples:

Our OT reading (Gen 18:1-15) describes a visitation to Abraham by the preincarnate Christ (& 2 angels).  In the finest Middle Eastern tradition, Abraham offers Jesus and friends water, shade, rest, and food.  Jesus responds with a prediction that Sarah will have “the child of promise,” Isaac, within the coming year.  Now Abraham and Sarah have waited 25 years to have this child. Earlier, the Lord changed Abram’s name from “exalted father” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.”  Finally, in the year to come, Abraham would be able to finally feel like he had lived into his name.  Finally, Sarah would be able to hold and love on a baby of her own.  Don’t you know that they rejoiced and praised God!

In our Epistle lesson, St. Paul extols the benefits we received

from Christ’s atoning death for our sins. Because of Jesus, we have peace with God.  Because of Jesus, we have open access to God through prayer.  Because of Jesus, we have hope for the future (the proper antidote to the news).  Because of Jesus, we know God is with us in our troubles and He helps us triumph over them.  These are all fabulous benefits of our relationship with Christ and most worthy of our gratitude and praise.

Finally, we notice in our Gospel, Matt 9:35-10:8, two remarkable considerations for which we can be grateful:  First, v.36 tells us that Jesus looked about Him, noted the crowds, and …He had compassion on them.  He had been teaching and healing, and may have been tired; but instead of focusing on His needs, He felt great love and empathy for His people.  He still has great love and empathy for us, and we can and should be grateful to Him for this.

Second, He then sends the 12 out to do what He has been doing all along.  He changes their status from disciple (learner) to apostle (delegate); and He empowers them to (v.8)…heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.  He has authorized them to continue His ministry.  He has authorized us to do so as well.  We can be grateful to Christ for their ministry and for ours.

 As I was growing up, I often heard my non-believing parents, say (when frustrated or surprised) things like Oh, good grief! Or For heaven’s sake!  For crying out loud!  Good God Almighty!  (oops, that one is suspiciously like taking God’s name in vain.) And–uttered with great distain and frustration–For the love of God!  These statements were an improvement over some of their more “colorful metaphors,” but it occurs to me that they did not really know what they were saying.  Whether my folks recognized it or not, these expressions all reference the LORD.  And the last one, “for the love of God,” really does summarize what our Scriptures emphasize today.  Because of the love of God for us, we have many things

for which to be grateful to Him.  Friends are lovely, but no one is better at consistently loving us than God.  This week, let’s be grateful for our human (and animal) friends, but let us also be mindful of the many ways in which

God has blessed and continues to bless us.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

 

 ©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

.